Health Problem: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common disorder that can have many severe consequences including social isolation, excessive weight gain, alcohol or drug abuse, difficulty functioning at home and work, and desire to commit suicide. Although many antidepressant medications have been developed for treatment of MDD, these medications may not provide adequate or complete relief and they can have side effects that are usually temporary such as dry mouth, nausea, loose bowel movements, headaches, and insomnia.

Technology Description: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a noninvasive technique that is being evaluated as a treatment for MDD. During tDCS, conductive pads are adhered to the scalp and a low-intensity electric current stimulates areas of the brain involved in mood regulation. The goal of tDCS is to lessen the duration or severity of depressive episodes. Treatment is given for 20 to 30 minutes per session at 1 to 2 milliamperes (mA) for approximately 10 to 30 sessions over several weeks.

Controversy: In comparison with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), tDCS is safer but it may be much less effective since the intensity of the stimulation is so much lower than the intensity of ECT. The long-term durability of any beneficial effect of tDCS for depression is unclear.

Key Questions:

For the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD):

  • Does transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) reduce the symptoms of MDD?
  • How does tDCS compare with other treatments for MDD?
  • Is tDCS safe?
  • Have definitive patient selection criteria been established for tDCS?

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